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Narcissism, Consumerism and the End of Growth

Charles Hugh Smith,
The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism now include narcissistic consumerism and definancialization.

Today I’m going to tie together the major themes I have been discussing in the context of Japan being the bellwether of economic stagnation and social recession. The basic idea is that Japan offers a limited but still insightful experiment in what happens to advanced consumer-driven economies as definancialization hollows out the economy.

What happens is that economic malaise leads to profound social recession that affects society, workplaces, families, individuals that then feeds back into the economic stagnation.

Definancialization is the process in which excessive speculation, debt, leverage reverse, crushing the economy with malinvestment and legacy debt while the crony-capitalist Central State attempts to stem the resulting deflation with massive, sustained Keynesian stimulus (fiscal deficits).

What we’re seeing in Japan is the confluence of three dynamics: definancialization, the demise of growth-positive demographics and the devolution of the consumerist model of endless "demand" and "growth."

Japan is the leading-edge of the crumbling model of advanced neoliberal capitalism: that consumerist excess creates wealth, prosperity and happiness.

What consumerist excess actually creates is alienation, social atomization, narcissism, and a profound contradiction at the heart of the consumerist-dependent model of "growth": the narcissism that powers consumerist lust and identity is at odds with the demands of the workplace that generates the income needed to consume.

One theme that weaves together this week’s essays on Japan is the cultural/economic shift that is eroding the traditional Japanese corporate workplace…
(19 October 2012)

Spain’s next threat: Losing 20% of its economy

Oliver Joy, CNN
It’s September 11, 2012. The National Day of Catalonia. And an estimated two million people are on the streets of Barcelona waving banners "Catalonia — The next state in Europe" and "Independencia."

Separatist Catalans are calling for sovereignty from Madrid and the rule of the conservative Popular Party, led by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Losing 20% of the economy is the last thing the Spanish government needs right now. But if those calling for Catalan independence get their way, that could be exactly what happens.

Catalonia — a region in the northeast of Spain and home to global brands and tourist attractions including Barcelona Football Club and the Gaudi House Museum — represents one fifth of the Spanish economy.

The Catalan independence question comes at an inconvenient time for Rajoy’s government. Spain, part of the eurozone mainstay, is grappling with unsustainable borrowing costs and a soaring public deficit while trying to placate public anger over a lack of jobs and stringent austerity.

Out of the hardship, regional disputes in northern Spain have started to resurface, particularly in Catalonia. Economists at Deutsche Bank say the political turmoil in such a prosperous region could be the catalyst that forces the Spanish central government into seeking aid from Europe’s permanent bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism.

As the industrial heartbeat of the eurozone’s fourth largest economy, Catalonia is the most affluent region in Spain. Situated on the Mediterranean and bordering France, the area is home to seven million people and made up of four provinces: Barcelona, Lleida, Tarragona and Girona.
(15 October 2012)

How Transition is starting to rebuild Ontario

Bruce Stewart, Troy Media
Across the world, the Transition Town movement has spread from its origins in Totnes, England, to over 2,000 locales.

Thirty of these are in Ontario. Seven are now officially recognized as underway, meaning that the local Transition volunteers have undertaken certain first steps on the journey from dependency upon outside resources to resilient communities that have relocalized their economies.

Communities in Transition in Ontario range from Poplar Hill, a village in the far northwest of the province, to larger cities such as London, Peterborough, Guelph and Ottawa.

October 21 will see Transition Toronto take the first step on its journey, when it holds its Energy Descent Action Theatre event.

What makes Transition Toronto’s effort interesting is that this is the first time, globally, that a Transition organization is attempting to work at mega-city scale.

In London, England, for instance, the vast size of the city led Transition organizations to work at the level of the city’s boroughs. There is a lot of communication and co-ordination between the borough organizations, but each charts its own course.

That’s similar to how Transition Toronto is working with the Transition organizations in the cities of the 905 belt around the City of Toronto. Transition Markham, Transition Whitby, Transition Oakville and others are loosely-coupled partners: information is exchanged, but each charts its own destiny.

You’d expect that with a movement whose goal is resilient communities. What each community needs as its path to that goal – and what makes any particular place resilient and prosperous – depends on what already exists (the built environment, as it’s called), local resources and local geography.

Transition, in other words, isn’t a prescription where one size fits all. Each community uses a body of practices to help guide the process of finding its own way into the future.

Given the size and diversity of the City of Toronto – on its own, it would be Canada’s fifth province – it would be natural for Transition Toronto to have broken down into neighbourhood Transition Groups, much as London did.

Indeed, such groups do exist within the Transition Toronto framework. Transition Midtown, Transition Beaches and the like localize the Transition movement to specific self-identified communities within the city.

But ultimately, thanks to the amalgamation of the city in 1998, and the wiping out of more local political structures, Transition Toronto has decided on a two-tier approach: neighbourhood initiatives, with neighbourhood Transition groups, where enough members of the community want to make that happen, and a city-wide approach running in parallel, because many of the opportunities for change neighbourhoods might want will require finding support across the city to make happen.
(15 October 2012)

Amid the Echoes of an Economic Crash, the Sounds of Greek Society Being Torn

Rachel Donadio, The New York Times
ATHENS — The cafes are full, the night life vibrant and the tourists still visiting in droves, but beneath the veneer of normalcy here Greece is unraveling. In good times, money papered over some of the problems. As the economic crisis grinds along, austerity is fraying the bonds of civility, forcing long-submerged divisions to the surface.

Members of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, who are widely seen to have the support of the police, clash violently with leftists and immigrants, raising fears of the precariousness of the rule of law. But the discord is not confined to them.

Lawmakers, increasingly mired in corruption scandals that alienate the public, curse one another in Parliament. Friends fall out, disagreeing over how deep the country’s troubles run and who is to blame.

The divisions are not only political. With unemployment at 25 percent, and exceeding 50 percent for young people, tensions are rising between generations, public- and private-sector workers, haves and have-nots.

“In Greece today, there are people with nothing to lose, and they’re dangerous,” said a popular blogger, Pitsirikos, as he sat in a cafe here. “If something happened, it would be like pouring gasoline on a fire. From moment to moment, things change completely. It’s not stable.”

The introduction of the euro in 2002 helped raise living standards after lean years. Today, those gains are slipping. Every day, it seems, the unthinkable becomes commonplace.
(20 October 2012)